Jake Gyllenhaal is edgy and engaging as confused Blackhawk helicopter pilot Captain Colter Stevens, who wakes up on a Chicago commuter train with no clue how he got there or what his ‘mission’ is. The attractive woman seated opposite, Christina (Michelle Monaghan), seems to think he’s a school teacher called Sean, and the face reflected in the train window is not his. Suddenly, an explosion rips through the train, and Colter finds himself in what may be the cockpit of his crashed chopper. Via a video screen, uniformed military ‘minder’ Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) explains that Colter is part of an experimental project, which allows access to a parallel reality for eight minutes at a time. And he has to keep going back in – not to stop the explosion, which has already happened, but to identify the terrorist on the train, who has also planted a ‘dirty bomb’ in the city.
Rather than get bogged down in the scientific explanations, Ben Ripley’s intricate script and Jones’s brisk direction invite us to climb aboard and enjoy the ride. But if you want to dig deeper, there is some serious stuff about a guy lost in fragments of time, groping towards a sense of his own identity. There’s also an involving emotional undertow, thanks to Colter’s fragmented romance with Monaghan’s loveable teacher-next-door and the burgeoning human connection between Farmiga’s delicately nuanced ‘minder’ and Gyllenhaal’s angry yet vulnerable guinea pig.